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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Terror Plot at JFK Airport Foiled by FBI and Police
Aired June 2, 2007 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Those comments from him recorded by the informant, the FBI informant about what he said about hitting JFK.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me read that to you again, Russell, again a U.S. citizen, he was the one who was arrested in Brooklyn, New York and he is a former JFK employee and apparently in a reported conversation that he was having he said, I'm going to read you the quote, "Any time you hit Kennedy it is the most hurtful thing to the United States. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow, they love John F. Kennedy, he's like the man. If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It's like you can kill the man twice." That is allegedly a quote from a telephone conversation with Russell and he basically talking about JFK's symbolic importance here in the United States.
HARRIS: Jason, if we are unable to get a signal, if you would, I know you have at least one producer there with you, probably a couple, do it old school. Let's fire up the Blackberry and as you get additional information if you would send that along the line. We will certainly get the information on to the folks who waiting on the story. Jason Carroll is with us. Jason Carroll is in New York standing by for the start of this news conference that should happen any minute here in the CNN Newsroom. We will try to bring that to you live. Jason thank you.
Kathleen Koch is with us now, and Kathleen I understand you have some new information about the actual targeting of these fuel farms.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tony, very interesting information. Most major airports according to top government aviation official I just spoke with do have this basically a spider web of pipelines underground that then go to the gates where then the aircraft that pump the fuel up out of those pipelines and into the planes so the way that this official explained it to me is that potentially if the suspects had been successful in setting off a massive explosion at the source, at the main depot or holding a tank where this fuel was, you could have this chain reaction going through this web of pipelines that could disable an airport in this major airport like JFK for quite some time and could even lead to the explosion of aircraft if an aircraft were being fueled at that moment when the explosion was set off.
Aircrafts could explode at the same time. So though we were told that the spot was not targeting aircraft specifically that could be an end result and you know as people -- as planes are being fueled right now to speed along the process, people are boarding. People are off loading at the same time. And so if you blew up this entire spider web of pipelines underneath JFK, the only way the airport could operate then for months and months to come would be to truck in the fuel inside trucks and that's a more rudimentary way of doing it. It's done at the smaller airports around the country but there are a lot of rules.
If there's a thunderstorm in the area, you can't refuel with a truck. You can't be boarding or offloading passengers when you're refueling with a truck. There can't be any kind of static discharge in the area. So it really slows operations down. So potentially if something like this had been carried out, it would have been simply devastating.
HARRIS: You know, I'm mindful of keeping 101 of journalism intact here and saying this was an alleged terror plot disrupted by Federal officials but as I think about this, Kathleen, it is hard to imagine that you would be plotting this kind of attack against fuel farms and these underground fuel lines without thinking much destroying planes as well.
KOCH: Certainly, Tony, and perhaps, again, as you did mentioned, this is an alleged plot. These are only suspects not convicted of anything yet, only arrested. Perhaps we're looking inside their minds, perhaps this was a way they thought of taking out numerous planes at the same time.
KOCH: By following a strategy like this. Again, if this one worker had worked at the airport, as we're told by our sources and did, indeed, understand the way this complex web of pipelines does work, perhaps that was indeed their actual intent in the long run.
HARRIS: Kathleen, let me have you speak to this. I know you've done several stories on Homeland Security and the issue of airport security and you can speak to what Jeanne Meserve was talking about just a short time ago, of the real concerns at airports around the country for the number of people who have access to the airport on whatever kind of pass gets them into the airport that there are so many people difficult to keep track of everyone once they are on the premises that it is a real security nightmare for airports.
KOCH: Certainly, Tony, it very much is. I think passengers do have this feeling of security and one doesn't want to think it's a false sense of security when they're going through the airports and they see the magnetometers (ph) and the pilots and the flight attendants, and everyone is getting on board that plane is going through being very carefully checked but there is great concern on the part of again pilots and flight attendants that level of security doesn't exist everywhere and there are hundreds and hundreds of other workers who granted they are supposed to carry I.D.s at some point, at most airports they are supposed to be checked. But there is a lot of concern that just doesn't happen because of the size of airports, because of the multiple areas that they're accessed.
A lot of concern even about cargo facilities, the DHLs, the FedEx's, these great facilities where they have these huge aircraft, 747s carrying packages. You'll remember that occasion a few years ago a young man who mailed himself in a package. Doesn't that illustrate how much lower the level of security is often at these cargo facilities so that's another concern of this sort of the soft underbelly that isn't completely protected in aviation today.
HARRIS: And then I'm also reminded as we talk about this at some of the vulnerabilities that may still exist at airports around the country that we are talking today about an alleged terror plot disrupted so for all of its issues and all of the vulnerabilities that may still exist where all of the concern at airports around the country for people who have access to the airport and various areas of the airport, we are talking today about an investigation that began at least in January of '06 where we are looking at the culmination of that today where law enforcement was able to track this and ultimately stop this plot from being carried out at a point before it was even operational. So in a way we are talking about a success story here.
KOCH: Certainly, Tony, very much so. The system clearly worked. This is why you have law enforcement, why you have informants of these sources, this web again that law enforcement draws from and in keeping tabs and monitoring situations like this. Some people might say we've been very lucky since 9/11. I think a lot of people in law enforcement would be very good.
HARRIS: Yeah. And if you would, Kathleen, stay with us. I may have a question for you at the end of this but I just want to update folks on where we stand right now, seven minutes after the hour. Three suspects have been arrested in an alleged terror plot aimed at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. A fourth suspect is still being sought, this according to law enforcement officials.
Speaking with us today the planning which began last summer involved four men and targeted fuel tanks and pipelines at the airport. Law enforcement sources are telling us it did not, we understand, target airplane flights. An official described the suspects as al Qaeda wannabes. One suspect in particular a U.S. citizen by the name of Russell Defreitas, a former airport cargo worker is described by a source as a very angry Muslim extremist.
Another suspect is former member of Parliament in Guyana, which is an amazing twist of the story. Several law enforcement officials reporting to us and Kathleen, I'll have you stand by to pick this up because I'm about to begin a coughing fit here. I apologize. The plot was revealed when the planners tried to recruit help from someone who was a law enforcement informant.
KOCH: Correct, Tony. That is our understanding and also according to our sources the decision was made to move forward at this point in time, though we were told, again, the spot was not anywhere close to being operational. They hadn't gotten their hands on any explosives of any sort, but apparently one or some number of the suspects was getting ready to travel and that was what prompted authorities to move forward now and also again what they were targeting, we are told, was this web, this network of fuel tanks, pipelines from which all these aircraft, thousands that go through JFK every day from which they get their fuel once they land and then head off for their next destination but from a federal government official, an aviation official I spoke with earlier, there certainly was the potential if this had become operational for taking in a major airport out, for a period of multiple months.
HARRIS: Kathleen, thank you. Thank you for that moment there.
KOCH: Glad to help, Tony.
HARRIS: Thank you. And let me just sort of yell to the room here. Has the news conference -- is the news conference under way? Does anyone know? OK. Not yet. Once again we're standing by waiting for the latest information on this to come from a news conference. The FBI and the Joint Terrorist Task Force have called this news conference. It was supposed to get under way at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Should be getting under way shortly. We will learn more details of the arrest and indictment. Let's take a quick break you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: Once again broken developments in this story unfolding for us here in the NEWSROOM this afternoon Eastern Time. Again, the FBI and the Joint Terrorist Task Force have called the Joint Terrorist Task Force have called a news conference was scheduled to begin at 1:00 Eastern Time. It hasn't gotten under way yet but we understand it might any moment now.
Jason Carroll is in the room and, Jason, you have provided a lot of information for us from the Justice Department, a bit of it here and then I'll let you pick up. Four individuals including a former member of Parliament of Guyana and a former airport cargo worker at JFK have been charged with conspiring to attack JFK Airport by planting explosives to blow up the airport's major jet fuel supply tanks and pipeline. Jason, what else can you add to this?
CARROLL: Well, one of the suspects seems to be particularly interesting, Russell Defreitas, he's a U.S. citizen, a native of Guyana and he is the one who was arrested in Brooklyn, New York. In fact, he's going to be arraigned later this afternoon. Apparently there are taped telephone conversations with this man and they are frightening.
One conversation I told you about earlier, just to recap what was said, one conversation, Tony, he said, "Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow, they love John F. Kennedy. He's like the man. If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning just like you can kill the man twice." As I read through more of this in another conversation with one of his co-conspirators, this is taking place this month; he allegedly compared the plot to the attack on JFK to that of the World Trade Center saying, "Even the Twin Towers can't touch it." And then he went on to say, "This can destroy the economy of America for some time."
Apparently in discussing these plans, one of the other suspects Abdul Kabir served as a member of the Guyanese Parliament, he was the one who had allegedly stressed causing economic damage and suggested trying to minimize the killing of innocent men and women, apparently in one conversation Kadir and Defreitas discussed the need to disable the airport control tower from which airport security monitors the fuel tank location. Kadir is an engineer by training and explained the tanks were most likely double tanks that would require two explosives and it goes on to some technical stuff to provide oxygen inside the air tank, et cetera, et cetera. But it is pretty detailed information here and a few details here to go through.
HARRIS: Jason, just a second. I have another question for you but once again we are standing by for the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force news conference to get under way. Jason, it was originally scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Do we have any reason as to why we're experiencing this delay?
CARROLL: It's starting now, Tony. So I'm going to listen in on what's happening.
HARRIS: I'm wondering if -- boy, is this the way to do this? I'm wondering are you in a position to place the phone there or should we just wait and let you listen in? You make the call, Jason.
CARROLL: Unfortunately, the way logistically we have this going I'm going to have to listen in and do my best. Unfortunately, I'm in the back of the room, so I won't be able to hear if I'm on at this moment.
HARRIS: Let me let you do that. Let me let you run and listen to the news conference and maybe we can old school this, you and your producers, and send us bits and pieces of what you're hearing in the news conference as you hear them and just send it along and we'll get it on to folks here.
Once again, some of the reporting from Jason Carroll. Let's sort of recap the story again. Three suspects no, that's old. We have four suspects that have been charged, three in custody. A former airport cargo worker at New York's JFK Airport have been charged with conspiring to attack JFK Airport by planting explosives to blow up the airport's major jet fuel supply tanks and pipeline we will share more of this information with you in just a moment. A quick break and you are back in THE NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: And we are still at this very moment gathering additional information on this alleged terror plot disrupted for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Our Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has been following this story and working her sources. Jeanne I understand you have some new information.
JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well Tony, I had been talking to you earlier about their concern about airport workers and the kind of access they have, that they could do surveillance, that they might be able to plant something onboard an aircraft. They've done this with drugs. But I wanted to get back to you just to clarify that of course there are checks done on people who work in secure areas of airport. The TSA does require a fingerprint- based criminal history check and a review of available law enforcement data about -- on each one of the people that work in these areas and they're then issued cards. They're called Security Identification Display Area Cards that allows them to have unescorted access to secure areas of airports.
I can also tell you that in recent months the TSA has stepped up its spot checks of individuals with this kind of access. I know I traveled down to Tampa and took a look at a surge they did there where they brought in a lot of TSA personnel from other airports and they positioned themselves at the entry points to secure areas and as personnel, airport personnel arrived for work, they were searched. They were patted down. Their bags were gone through in an effort to let them know they were trying to enforce the security perimeter at the airport.
But as you heard Kathleen Koch mention earlier still a lot of concern on the part of many people that there's not enough of that scrutiny. There are many entrances to some of these areas and probably ways to circumvent some of the security that has been put in place.
HARRIS: It's interesting because there seems to be, I'm sure several, but at least two stories pop to mind to me. Clearly there's a situation where this is a success story from the standpoint of this is some luck involved, albeit that these people ended up reaching out and trying to recruit an informant but also the bottom line on that is they were able to follow this and to stop this plotting before it reached the operational stage and at the same time there is still this concern that you speak of to try to further tighten the vulnerabilities at airports.
MESERVE: Yeah. And there were a lot of them. There were perimeter concerns, there are, you know, concerns about shoulder-fired missiles. There are a number of different areas that they're simultaneously trying to clamp down on and this one, as I mentioned, purely because of the numbers of people who have access to the aircraft is one of the critical ones they've been trying to get a handle on.
HARRIS: Hey it do you think that next week, maybe later today we will be talking to the airports and asking them in light of the fact that we're talking about a former airport cargo worker who was involved in the surveillance, who knew the airport like the back of his hand, you suspect that we will be asking the airports is there more you can do with the screening process?
MESERVE: Oh, I'm sure the Transportation Security Administration is really the agency that's in charge of that. I'm sure we will certainly be asking that question. I can tell you that for the time being the Department of Homeland Security is saying there's no change in the nations security posture. They don't see this as an imminent threat to the homeland.
HARRIS: OK. Our Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve for us. Jeanne thank you. Again just to bring you the very latest the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force in the middle of a news conference right now. Our Jason Carroll is in the room and we are waiting for updates from Jason as to what is being said right now as we learn more details of this alleged plot to target these fuel farms around JFK International Airport and underground this web as Kathleen Koch described to us, this web, this network of underground fuel lines that fuel the planes and this plot very extensive and we are getting more details on it right now from the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Our Jason Carroll in the room. We will take a break and update this story for you in just a moment. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: Once again following the latest developments right now on this alleged terror plot disrupted, a terror plot aimed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, a major, major -- it goes without saying airport servicing so much of the country in the world, as a matter of fact. We understand that a news conference is under way right now with the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force to provide more details of the arrest and the indictment.
Pat D'Amuro is on the line with us now, our CNN security analyst. Pat, thank you for staying with us on this story. I want to share with you a bit of the information from the complaint here alleged in the complaint that the plot tapped into an international network of Muslim extremists from the U.S., Guyana, and Trinidad. That is a bit of additional information than we had when we last spoke. What does that indicate to you?
PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, a lot of the extremists throughout the world have been utilizing the Internet. It's possible some of these individuals may have been communicating through that mechanism. One thing that's important to mention here is that we're hearing that there's not connections to al Qaeda. That makes a lot of sense to me. When you hear a plot that people are going to attack fuel depots, going to attack different infrastructure, facilities at the airport, they're not necessarily talking about killing citizens. Al Qaeda is concerned about one thing; they want to kill American citizens. They want to kill Americans anywhere they can in the world.
Not clear that these individuals had any connection to al Qaeda. Probably did not from those types of statements. Again, you have to remember that there's a lot of radical fundamentalists out there loosely affiliated, loosely connected to extremist groups that want to conduct some type of an attack. We need to hear more about how far this attack was planned. It sounds like it was stopped well in advance.
HARRIS: Can I stop you for just a moment there? You don't attack fuel farms and you don't attack an underlying network of fuel lines without an expectation that you're going to kill people, that you're going to possibly blow up planes and kill people.
D'AMURO: Yeah, they're talking -- well, we have to see what they're talking about attacking here. It doesn't sound from the information we know so far in the complaint. Obviously it's a terrorist plot. Obviously if they blow something up there's the potential of killing people. Al Qaeda wants to try to maximize the killers and as many Americans as possible so we're going to have to see what intelligence the bureau has and what the Joint Terrorism Task Force is able to put out there for the American people to understand on this, but it sounds like they were well on top of this. They had a source advising them of some of this information now, we're learning about that. We'll learn more as the press conference continues and more information is put out.
HARRIS: Pat, let me put this out there. Is it in any way surprising to you, and what do you make of the fact that when we've had had other indictments of this kind alleging terror plots there is usually a big show. We usually get a news conference that is available for us to take live and bring to folks on television. What do you make of the fact that these arrests and the information in this complaint is being laid out in a news conference on the tenth floor of a building where we can't put it on television?
D'AMURO: It doesn't make a lot of sense although I will probably say that we're hearing some information that there is no threat to flying out of JFK. They may be trying to downplay this but if that's the case they should put more information out to the public to make sure that the public is at ease, that there's no eminent threat at JFK, there is no current threat. It's been eliminated. Tony, we're going to see these types of situations again and again and again.
This is the new type of terrorism that this country is going to be dealing with. The number one mission of the FBI is to identify these types of sleeper groups, individuals that may not be affiliated directly, may not have pledged their allegiance to al Qaeda but still wish to conduct these types of attacks.
HARRIS: OK. Pat stay with us, we're going to blow up your Blackberry here in a moment with information that Jason Carroll is learning from this news conference. Pat, appreciate it. Thank you. Kathleen Koch is with us again. Kathleen I understand you're really working this. What can you tell us?
KOCH: Well Tony, again, this goes back to what one of the concerns raised by this incident is that the incredible access, the number of people who have access to secure areas of airports, we got the figure now some 800,000 workers who have badges that give them access to secure areas of airports around the country. And what it comes down to is that the Transportation Security Administration simply can't screen them all.
Now we're told again that one of the people who is going to be arrested today or whose arrest is being announced was a former airport worker and was helping form this plot to blow up fuel lines, the fuel pumps, depots, tanks, at JFK Airport. And when you have 800,000 people with access that can become very dangerous.
HARRIS: Kathleen, quickly I think you just got the word at the same moment I did, that Jason Carroll is standing by on the phone with some new information for us from the news conference. Kathleen, stand by. Jason, what do you have for us?
CARROLL: The news conference has just gotten under way but already there's a bit of information to get sort of a sense much the character of this group of men. They've been described as a determined group, that they were operating surveying JFK using photos, video, using the Internet to obtain satellite pictures of JFK Airport as well. Officials here describe the group as with a clear signature, that signature being persistence.
They tried to seek internationally; they tried to seek financing as well. They do believe the threat has been fully contained. They said this gives us a window in how plots come about and that at this moment as this press conference is just getting under way but wanted to be sure that we check in with you periodically to give you some of the information.
HARRIS: Some of what you're learning. Jason, we appreciate it. And what we've learned, Kathleen, just in those first initial moments from the news conference in New York City is just more about this group described now as a sleeper cell with a clear signature, persistence, that this was a group certainly with the help of the former employee of the airport surveying the area. I think you've described it. A couple other of our correspondents have described this person as someone with a back of the hand knowledge of the airport, a former cargo worker, surveying the airport with photos, video, the Internet. The thing that points out to me, Kathleen, is just how relatively easy it is for anyone to get information on sensitive targets in this country right now, photos, video, material that is easily accessible via the Internet.
KOCH: Certainly, Tony. We had this incident just a day or so ago where the blueprint for the new -- I believe it was the U.S. Embassy or U.S. facility in Iraq was on the Internet. I think what's very telling also is this one gentleman who has been arrested, who is the former airport worker, described as a very angry Muslim extremist and as these workers when they get these cards to access the various parts of the airport, the secure areas where they work as Jeanne Meserve reported, they're fingerprinted, they are given background checks. But one wonders how deeply they probe into their background.
HARRIS: How do you screen for angry Muslim?
KOCH: Exactly. You don't want profiling they airports of passengers, of flight attendants, but certainly I think this case could raise some questions on the part of some people. Well, what kind of background checks are you doing? Are you going deep enough? Are you asking the right questions because the TSA simply can't screen every one of these 800,000 badged workers with access to secure areas of every airport in the United States every day.
HARRIS: And, look, you're tipping us off clearly to some of the questions that we're going to be asking in the days and the weeks ahead. You take a look at this episode and on one hand you're looking at a success as it's being touted by the FBI now of stopping this plotting before the plot became operational so on that hand it looks like a success but clearly there are a number of vulnerabilities, and you've just mentioned it, the screening much the workers that I guess the airports are going to be looking to get a lot better at the job of screening these workers.
KOCH: Certainly, Tony. I think they will start looking at the security of where their fuel is now. Some airports do have the fuel depots, the fuel tanks, and right there on the airport grounds inside some sort of fence but not all of them. This episode will make them all take a look. Where do we store our fuel? How safe is that area? Are there cameras there? How often do we check it? What if someone were to try to blow up that one large holding tank? Would the fire then spread like -- through this spider web of pipes, of ten-inch pipes? Would it go all the way to the terminal? Would it blow up our aircraft that are refueling at that very moment? I think it will raise a lot of questions for every single airport in the United States.
HARRIS: Kathleen, thank you for that. I just want to share with you as we go to break one of -- a bit of a conversation recorded in an alleged phone call with one much the plotters here. "Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing you can do to the U.S. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow, they love JFK. He's like the man. If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It's like you've killed the man twice." We'll take a break and come back with more of our coverage, you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: Once again we are learning at the very moment more information about the alleged terror plot disrupted, the terror plot- targeting John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Four individuals including a former member of Parliament for Guyana and a former airport cargo worker at New York's JFK International Airport have been charged with conspiring to attack JFK by planting explosives to blow up the airport's major jet fuel supply tanks and pipeline.
Mike Brooks, our CNN law enforcement analyst, is on the line with us right now. Mike, if you would, talk to us what you've learned from your sources in law enforcement about the plot to blow up fuel lines and these fuel farms.
MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Apparently, Tony, the three who have been arrested and the one other subject they're looking for now apparently have ties to Guyana and Trinidad as we heard before, and also apparently there was some overseas connection in Germany where they were possibly looking for funding, looking for other people to get involved with and join their plot.
But, Tony, this particular plot was involving fuel lines and this particular fuel line actually begins in Linden, New Jersey. So you've also got the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and New Jersey State Police there taking a look at that end of things. But it runs from Linden, New Jersey to JFK and feeds the fuel farm there at JFK. Now we look at talking about different scenarios and what in this particular -- at JFK you've got the fuel farm, Tony, and then it's also fed to the fuel trucks can fuel there but also runs underground to the gates where some of the aircraft are fueled right there at the gate so that is a concern but they went ahead and decide to take these guys down before they were able to become operational.
Now this apparently has been going on for some time. And the other concern that we were talking about earlier, Tony, is the background checks.
HARRIS: Yes, yes.
BROOKS: You have people and it's always been a concern. When I was at the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and then also when I was with Delta Airlines Corporate Security, it was always a concern we had before and after 9/11 because if you have a foreign national that gets a job with one of these contractors, with a cargo company, with an airline, they do a fingerprint. They do a ten-year background check for felonies and misdemeanors but if they've kept their nose clean in the country where they came from and when they get here to the United States and have no affiliation with any known terrorist group that would be in the databases of any of the nine intelligence agencies, they're going to come up clean and that's one of the problems with the systems check. But how do you go about closing that gap?
HARRIS: How do you do that? We just said it a moment ago. How do you screen for, you know jihadists? How do you screen -- how do you do this?
BROOKS: That's exactly it, Tony. The FBI the CIA, any of the intelligence agencies are not the thought police. You can't give polygraphs to every one of the people you're going to give one of these badges to that works for an airport contractor. It just is not feasible.
HARRIS: So, folks are going to begin to act out of not any real knowledge but out of fears and possibly stereotyping and profiling. That is also a possibility as you look to the other side of this equation.
BROOKS: It does. You know everybody talks about the system that's in place now with TSA and the other intelligence agencies doing the background. It's not a bad system. Its gotten better, Tony. I think it's gotten a lot better since 9/11. You've got people like the FBI. When we have something like this happen, it is prevention and things like this happen every single day but you never hear about it. I can say today I've been talking with a lot of my sources and I was talking with one source telling me I know other people looking at fuel farms at different airports, Hartsfield, L.A.X. You see it, you get it on it quickly and you find the people. But they haven't done anything criminal. There's nothing criminal about taking pictures unless they go ahead and they act on it, as it seems these four people have.
HARRIS: And, Mike, if you would, stand by. Jason Carroll is coming up in just a moment. He'll give us an update on what he's learning right now from the press conference underway right now, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The news conference is under way. Jason Carroll is in the room. Jason, what have you learned?
CARROLL: Ray Kelly just wrapped up his portion. He basically touched on a few important points. He talked about that 40-mile fuel line that runs from New Jersey to Staten Island to Brooklyn, to Queens, to JFK. He says the minute the plot was revealed, one of the first things they did was their counter terrorism task force, they did a survey of the pipeline looking at vulnerability so he talked a little bit about that. He went on to say the case really underscores how New York City continues to be on the top of terrorist target lists and he played on something that was interesting, Tony.
He said that because this particular plot has ties to the Caribbean, he said that this was an area of growing concern that he said requires new focus. He also went on to say that it's important for all of us here in New York City to remain vigilant and not to become complacent and he said that we simply still have to look at the world through the prism of 9/11. Ray Kelly has wrapped up his portion of the press conference. We're now going into a Q&A portion of the press conference. If anything else comes out of it other than what we've given you, I'll be sure to let you know.
HARRIS: That's interesting because I think what the commissioner is alluding to is the fact that for much of the conversation about the war on terror that focus seems to be outward. It seems to be out of the United States. We often hear the president say we fight them in Iraq and other places around the world so that they don't follow us here, and they don't come here to the United States. And now what you're hearing from the police commissioner is that perhaps their needs to be more attention paid to the Caribbean, particularly as this particular plot is foiled, is disrupted.
Again, details of the plot as Jason Carroll is back into the room and listening to the news conference and the Q&A portion is going on right now. We'll talk to Jason in just a couple of minutes. Four individuals, we've learned, including a former member of the Parliament of Guyana, and a former airport cargo worker at New York's JFK International Airport charged with conspiring to attack JFK by planting explosives along a 40-mile fuel line from Linden, New Jersey, to JFK International Airport, targeting the fuel farms, the supply tanks, the entire pipeline.
One of the defendants, a former JFK employee, Russell Defreitas a U.S. citizen, a native of Guyana, was arrested, we understand in Brooklyn, New York, and may have a court appearance a little later this afternoon. Great. Thank you. We have some tape now much the news conference. Let's take a look and listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK MERSHON, ASST. DIR., NEW YORK FBI: We're here today to advise the public that the New York Joint Terrorist Task Force has disrupted a terrorist cell, which had clear designs and completed numerous acts, defer their plot for an explosives attack on the certain facilities at JFK International Airport in Queens, New York. This investigation was initiated in January of 2006 and balanced the importance of evidence collection designed to determine the scope of the plot and the membership of the cell with public safety imperatives that hopefully are obvious to all of us here.
The enforcement action that we're announcing today was taken to prevent the terrorist plot from maturing into a terrorist act. This is a very determined group that engaged in precise and extensive surveillance. Surveillance that included physical surveillance, photographic surveillance, video surveillance, even the use of the Internet to obtain satellite photographs of the JFK facility. Engaged in extensive conversation and international travel furthering and refining their conspiracy.
The federal charges announced today identify terminal buildings, aircraft, and bulk jet fuel storage and delivery systems as their targets.
The defendants Russell Defreitas, also known as Mohammed, are a U.S. citizen from Guyana. He will be arraigned today. He is in custody in New York. Kareem Ibrahim also known as Amir Kareem is a citizen of Trinidad. He is in custody in Trinidad to be brought back here. Abdul Kadir, citizen of Guyana and interestingly a former member of their Parliament and a former local mayor. Lastly Abdel Nur, a citizen of Guyana. He is in fugitive status and believed to be in Trinidad.
One clear signature of this cell was its persistence. They consistently worked to refine their plot. They took extensive measures to seek expert advice, finances, and explosives. The bottom line is we believe this threat has been fully contained. You've heard me say this before but the cooperation in this incidence has been truly extraordinary. The guidance of our U.S. Attorney Rosalynn Mauskopf from the Eastern District and her staff has been absolutely terrific. Supplemented by the Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, a good judge, and also by Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hines. The Port Authority Police Department superintendent, Sam Plumberide (ph), couldn't be here today. He had a prior commitment that he just could not break.
I want to assure the traveling public that he and his staff were fully engaged and absolute partners throughout the investigation. As always, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and his New York City Police Department provided extraordinary resources in the Joint Terrorism Task Force and beyond. New York City Department of Investigation deputy commissioner Vincent Green is here. We thank them for their excellent work. Deputy secretary Mike Balboni, New York State Public Safety. He oversees the police and participated as well.
We also have high praise for the authorities in Trinidad. They helped us throughout the investigation and of course in the apprehension of two of the subjects in Trinidad. On a more vague note, there are others out there who helped us behind the scenes. They know who they are and we thank them as well.
Next up we have U.S. Attorney Rosalynn Mauskopf from the Eastern District of New York.
ROSALYNN MAUSKOPF, U.S. ATTORNEY, EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Good afternoon. As you know, charges were filed today in the Eastern District of New York Federal Court in Brooklyn. Outlining one much the most chilling plots imaginable, a plot to blow up the main fuel supply, jet fuel supply, at John F. Kennedy International Airport here in Queens, New York. The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded is just unthinkable. The charges that were filed today give you a window into how these plots come about, how these plots are developed. How these plots have international connections. How this particular one spread from the United States, Brooklyn, New York, through Queens, JFK Airport, abroad into Guyana and Trinidad. You can see how willing participants are recruited to participate and see how high-level patrons from a known extremist organization with a proven record of violent acts are sought out to provide operational support, the means, and their blessing to carry out this type of unthinkable act.
These conspirators employed particular talents and they employed particular contacts available to their colleagues. You have a former employee at JFK Airport who comes together with a former high-ranking official in Guyana who has the contacts, who can bring this plot to those who can provide the operational support, the means, and the methods. Outstanding efforts stopped this plot long before it ever had a chance to be carried out. You see the coordinated effort of law enforcement here in the United States and abroad. You see how law enforcement is capable of penetrating an extremely insular group, a group that plots in secret.
You can see how the plot -- how the plotters are suspicious of outsiders. And you also see how law enforcement works those sources, works that evidence to make sure that they're in clear proof that these individuals were engaged in criminal activity. We will use every lawful method available to us to make sure that the public is safe and to make sure that these plots do not reach their ultimate and horrific conclusions. I'm very proud to stand here and be a part of that outstanding law enforcement effort, and I commend everyone who was involved for the outstanding work that brings us here today.
Next up is Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. Commissioner of the New York City Police Department.
RAYMOND W. KELLY, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT: Thank you, Rosalynn. First let me say that Mayor Bloomberg has been briefed in-depth about the developments of this case today and also as the case progressed for the last almost 18 months.
Once again would-be terrorists have put New York City in their cross hairs and once again the FBI, New York City police department, other law enforcement agencies have joined forces to stop them. I particularly want to thank and congratulate the Port Authority police for the great job they did in averting disaster in this case. And not only are we concerned about the 40-mile fuel line that runs from Linden, New Jersey, through Staten Island, through Brooklyn, and Queens. It is indeed the feeding tube that nourishes international commerce at JFK and at La Guardia Airport.
One of the first things that we did as this case developed was have our authorities in the division do an in-depth survey of that pipeline. And, indeed, we used our helicopters. We used our launchers in the counter terrorism mode to continue on a daily basis to check this important pipeline as they do other infrastructure in the city. Now we in New York City focus on terrorism every day because we must. And once this case does is once more underscore the fact that New York City is very much on the top of the terrorist-targeting list. And what you have to do is look at the cases that have developed here.
And just a few months after 9/11 I'm standing on the Brooklyn Bridge trying to determine ways to take it down. We have gotten three teens you might say of Iranian intelligence agents who were doing observations and taking pictures of critical infrastructure here and had them ejected from the country. We had the plot against the Harrell Square Subway Station that was very well conducted and was I think really an out standing job, was done by the New York City police department's intelligence division. And just about ten months ago, we were standing in this very room. Many of the people who are here today. And we reported on the plot to blow up the path of commuter tunnels under the Hudson River. Of course that plan also dealt with flooding the financial district of lower Manhattan. This particular plot is both similar and different to ones that we've seen in the past.
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